Remembering the great Gwyn Pierce Owen on his 87th birthday

Referee Gwyn Pierce Owen pictured with Bangor City’s Phil Lunn and Liverpool skipper Emlyn Hughes. The teams met in a friendly at Farrar Road on January 27, 1979. Liverpool won 4-1 with goals from Kenny Dalglish (2), Terry McDermott (pen) and David Fairclough

Today would have marked the 87th birthday of the legendary Gwyn Pierce Owen, former president of Bangor City Football Club and top level referee.

The great man passed away on July 31, 2019, aged 85.

Best known in more recent years as ex-chairman and later president of his beloved Bangor City, the Anglesey-based legend was also a Football League and international referee in the 1970 and 80s, as well as a former school headteacher.

Known affectionately as GPO, my fondest memory of the man goes back to December 27, 2011, and the last-ever match at Farrar Road between Bangor City and Prestatyn Town.

It was the final game before the much-loved stadium was demolished and no doubt an extremely emotional occasion for the Citizens president.

Yet he held himself together impeccably, giving countless interviews, engaging in numerous conversations with nostalgic fans and warmly welcoming the many ex-Bangor players in attendance.

He made sure after the match I was introduced to many Citizens stars of yesteryear, ensuring I had plenty to write about.

Quite a few names to remember, but he did not call a single one wrong.

In the years I covered Bangor City, Gwyn was not always in the best of health, but he so often came back fighting.

One of the most pleasurable articles I ever wrote was on Gwyn’s 80th birthday on April 18, 2014.

The late Gwyn Pierce Owen at Farrar Road

Congratulatory quotes were provided by many, including Nigel Adkins, City’s player-manager in their League of Wales title-winning seasons of 1993-94 and 1994-95, and later to be boss of Southampton, Reading, Scunthorpe United and Sheffield United among others.

The pair always remained close, and Nigel was one of countless football figures and followers to express their sadness over GPO’s passing on social media two years ago.

In connection with his 80th birthday, the main stand at Bangor City’s current ground Nantporth was named after the president.

Gwyn’s involvement with City had decreased considerably in the months before his death, which in light of subsequent events at the club was for the best.

The Bangor City who were triple Welsh Cup winners and Welsh Premier champions under Nev Powell, plus the heroes of famous European ties of the 1980’s, 1990’s and 2000’s, will always be the times most synonymous with GPO.

As a Football League referee, Gwyn was best known for one game – December 30, 1978, Old Trafford, Manchester United 3 West Bromwich Albion 5.

It was described at the time as the “Game of the Century” and even now is regarded as one of the greatest matches in English football history.

The West Brom team featured three black British players – Cyrille Regis, Laurie Cunningham and Brendon Batson.

They blazed a trail for black footballers in England and were frequently the subject of racist abuse, including “audible boos” from Manchester United fans in this game.

It was the terrific trio who were smiling at the final whistle, though, as goals from Cunningham and Regis in the second half secured a 5-3 win for the Albion, the score having been 3-3 at the interval.

Extended highlights were shown on Granada TV, meaning viewers got to see plenty of GPO.

It later emerged that Gwyn was a West Bromwich Albion fan, although he could not say this at the time!

GPO was also in charge of two England v Northern Ireland internationals at Wembley, in 1980 and 1982, as well as a European Cup tie between Hvidovre of Denmark and Dutch side Feyenoord in 1980-81, plus UEFA Cup matches involving Borussia Monchengladbach and Newcastle United among others.

He also refereed countless North Wales matches.

In his autobiography ‘C’Mon Reff’, Gwyn recalled George Best as the greatest footballer he has ever seen.

Thank you for everything Gwyn Pierce Owen. You will never be forgotten. Remembered today and every day. Cysgwch yn dawel.

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